Things to Do in Dayton

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History of Dayton

The City of Dayton was founded in the 1860’s by Elizabeth and Jesse Day.  Today it is the County Seat of Columbia County and has the oldest train depot and continuously operating courthouse in the State of Washington, both dating back to the late 1880’s.

The population remains at about 2,500, though in previous years there were more seasonal migrant workers that cut asparagus for Green Gian,t and who built the Little Goose Lock and Dam northeast of Starbuck.

Today, situated at the base of the Blue Mountains, Dayton caters to visitors who come to ski at Bluewood during the winter and to hikers and campers in the summer.  It also has a strong agrotourism industry. 

Stay at The Weinhard Hotel

The Weinhard Hotel is named for Jacob Weinhard, who constructed the building in which the hotel is housed in 1890 for his Weinhard Lodge Hall & Saloon.

Though renovated, the hotel still maintains an elegant, Victorian feel with a cozy lobby and 15 guest rooms decorated in Victorian-American antiques. 

The hotel was included in Country Living’s list of the 50 Most Stunning Historic Hotels in America in 2016 and features amenities such as a rooftop garden, Jacob’s Public House Restaurant, and a surrey bike.

The weinhard hotel in dayton

Eat at Weinhard Café

If not indulging in the amazing butternut squash soup at the hotel’s restaurant, try the Wienhard Café across the street.  It recently changed hands and reopened with a chef who has cooked all over the world, and who has spent the last few years teaching culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu and the Art Institute.

The menu is limited, but it caters to local farm-fresh ingredients.  The smoked turkey sandwich with onion bacon jam and aioli sauce is delicious though it strangely does not come with any sides.

the weinhard cafe in dayton

Another choice is My Dad’s Place whose permanent sign calls it an Italian restaurant, but the chalk board outside says, “The Best Burger in Town”.  I wasn’t sure what to order, but the mushroom swiss burger and fries were quite tasty.

Since the glass on VANgo’s stove shattered, I have been eating out more than normal.  I also tried Locally Nourished for a $7 smoothie which was fine, and the chicken bacon pizza from Chief Spring’s Fire & Irons Brew Pub

Perhaps I ordered the wrong thing as it gets good reviews, but that particular pizza could have used more flavor. That said, the crust was great.  If I could have gotten a half & half with the Reuben Pizza, I might have tried that.  It was unique sounding.

Two breakfast restaurants are in a gift shop and furniture shop, respectively.  That was also strangely unique, but I enjoyed my breakfast sandwich at the Moose Creek Café with a view of the old courthouse across the street.  I ate there twice because Carolyn’s Café was closed on the days and times I tried to visit.

Take the Historic Walking Tour

Speaking of the Old Courthouse, take the historic walking tour.  You can pick up a brochure at the Chamber of Commerce. Dayton’s main street is short, so it won’t take long.  Be sure to veer slightly off the beaten path to see the Historic Train Depot and the Smith Hollow School and Quarantine Cabin.

the courthouse in dayton

Visit the Museums

The Dayton Historic Train Depot

Dayton features a handful of free museums with limited opening hours.  The Dayton Historic Train Depot, operated by the Dayton Historical Depot Society, has the longest operating hours, being open Wednesday to Saturday.  The depot is the oldest passenger train station in Washington.  It is right by the train tracks which are now only used for freight.

the dayton historic train depot

The station has been fully restored to a museum.  It features the waiting room and ticket window with many old relics, downstairs.  Upstairs, is where the station master used to live, so much of the upstairs displays a living quarters, including a bedroom and kitchen.  There is also a revolving display.

The Boldman House

The Boldman House is also operated by the Dayton Historical Depot Society.  It is an old Victorian home which was built in 1880.  The Boldman family purchased the home in 1912 and a member of the family continuously lived there until 1999.  Upon Miss Boldman’s death, the house was donated to the city to be used as a “showcase”.  Currently, visits are by appointment only and the tour takes 45 minutes.  As a result, I didn’t go inside, but did enjoy the lovely gardens.

the boldman house

The Palus Museum

The Blue Mountain Heritage Society manages another museum as well as a few properties.  The Palus Museum, only open on Saturday for limited hours, features many arrow heads and other Indian artifacts as well as a US Veterans collection and other relics.  It is a unique combination.  I particularly liked the countless arrowheads, an old Indian saddle, and the collection of typewrites!

the palus museum

Smith Hollow County Schoolhouse

This society also operates the Smith Hollow County Schoolhouse and the Dodge Quarantine Cabin, both of which have interesting stories which I learned from Rose, the docent at the Palus Museum.  The society moved the schoolhouse to the river next to the “port.”  I put “port” in parenthesis because I wouldn’t have known it was a port until I heard three different people mention it.  It looks like a bridge crossing the river.

Anyway, it took three days to move the school ten miles!  The had to take down fence posts and call the power company to move their lines!  Rose showed me a picture of it at the museum.  Currently, the museum is only open after the school is open, so I didn’t get to go inside the school on the opposite end of town, but I could look in the window and see all the old school desks.  So cute!

smith hollow county schoolhouse in dayton

Dodge Quarantine Cabin

Next to the school is the quarantine cabin.  This cabin was only moved from a few blocks away.  It was built for a soldier returning from war that had Yellow Fever.  He had to be quarantined.  Both he and his family survived.

Go for a Bike Ride

While on the southwest side of town, take a bike ride or walk along the Touchet River.  You can join the path across Highway 12 from the school at the Flour Mill Park.  It travels along the river past the Dayton Park until it intersects with N Touchet Road.

If that is too short for a ride, it is always easy to head to the Blue Mountains.  They are less than 30 minutes away.  I camped in a great spot on Chase Mountain and used my ebike to scope out the network of dirt roads.  Some still had snow on them, and I wasn’t sure if VANgo could make it in certain places.  It was great to zip around before the season truly opened up to ATV’s.

old road on Chase Mountain

Take a Hike

Continuing southwest through Dayton will lead you to the Rock Hill Industrial Park.  Believe it or not, there is a trail that climbs the hillside of tallgrass and wildflowers.  It is easier to follow clockwise, but I went the other way which afforded nice views of Dayton below.  I could also see the Jolly Green Giant!

wildflowers in rock hill loop in dayton

Honestly, from my perspective, I likely wouldn’t call this stroll along the hillside a hike, but there are plenty of other hiking alternatives.  While I visited Dayton, I hiked the following trails: the Panjab Trail and the Middle Point Trail to Ski Bluewood in the Umatilla National Forest; the Fur, Fins, and Feathers Trail in Lewis & Clark Trail State Park, and attempted to hike the Airplane Crash site which still had too much snow at the beginning of June.

These trails ranged in difficulty from easy to hard, and more info may be found at my post Hikes Near Dayton.

Snap a Photo of the Jolly Green Giant

As I mentioned above, you can see the Jolly Green Giant on the hillside from the Rock Hill Loop hike.  For those who don’t want to hike, there is a pulloff on Highway 12 with some historical placards that also provides a view.

the jolly green giant
See the one on the hill behind the cutout?

Enjoy a Tasting

A little farther from town, you can enjoy a wine tasting at Dumas Station.  While Dumas Station is right on the highway, the cute outdoor patio with hanging lights adds some additional atmosphere.  Their wines consistently receive high praise and rank in the 90s.

Dumas Station Winery

If wine is not your thing, try Cedar Rain Spirits located in the Blue Mountain Station.  They specialize in cold brew coffee and green tea liquors.  Also in the Blue Mountain Station is the Red Band Cellars, a coffee shop, and an artisan food store which features local fare.

Learn About the Lewis and Clark Forgotten Trail

While I’ve listed many things to do in Dayton, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the Lewis and Clark Forgotten Trail.  Of course, just about every school child in America has learned about the Lewis and Clark expedition, but one part that isn’t mentioned often is the deviation from their initial path upon their return trip.

The Indians informed Lewis and Clark of a good road that was a short cut.  It traveled through Wallula, Prescott, Waitsburg, Dayton, Pomeroy, Clarkston, and Lewiston.  In fact, the Indians held horse races on what is now the main street of Dayton.

During their return travels, Lewis and Clark camped nearby Patit Creek.  Today, there is a life size depiction of the campsite made with steel figurines just two miles outside of town.  It is worth a quick stop to appreciate the history of exploring the west.

lewis and clark campsite depiction in dayton

Take a Side Trip to Palouse Falls

Farther from Dayton, but also worth considering a visit is Palouse Falls State Park.  It’s hard to believe these 200-foot falls in the middle of nowhere are the state falls of Washington, but a group of elementary school students successfully lobbied the state legislature.

The falls are magnificent and have an interesting historical and geological background which is included on interpretive signs at the state park.  Personally, I wanted to walk farther than the lookout point, but the trail was closed due to someone recently falling.  Apparently, 21 people have died or have been severely injured from falls in the last five years.  Watch your step!

palouse falls

In all, Dayton is a cute town in Eastern Washington and a great gateway to the Blue Mountains.  Seeing as how I’m now a nomad, I particularly appreciated the Pacific Commercial gas station where I could get diesel, propane, water, a quarter carwash and a shower all in one location!  I’m definitely marking this place down on my maps!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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